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MIKE PRESTON

'Little guy' Lardarius Webb turned into one of team's toughest players during eight years with Ravens

'Little guy' Lardarius Webb turned into one of team's toughest players during eight years with Ravens.

After a few days of training camp practice in 2009, there was one skinny rookie in the secondary who repeatedly made plays. Few people noticed him because his speed made him look like a blur.

But he certainly caught the eye of then-Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

"A sleeper, watch him," Mattison said, winking as he walked off the field past a reporter. "That little guy is going to be a player."

The little guy turned out to be cornerback Lardarius Webb, who had a successful eight-year career with the Ravens before he became a salary cap casualty and was waived last week. Webb won't go into the NFL Hall of Fame like offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Ray Lewis or safety Ed Reed. He won't even make it into the Ring of Honor like Michael McCrary or Peter Boulware.

But he will be remembered as one of the team's toughest players, right up there with Bennie Thompson, Rob Burnett, Jarret Johnson and Orlando Brown.

To survive and play as long as Webb did after two major knee surgeries is pretty unbelievable.

"He was a good pro and did a great job for us," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "The way he came back off those surgeries, I was so proud of him. I was just glad to be his coach. He was extremely valuable to us playing cornerback, safety and nickel. He was tremendous for this organization both on and off the field. He was a true Raven in every sense of the word."

Webb was one of those players whose career almost had the dream NFL ending. Even though he was drafted in the third round, the No. 88 pick overall, he was still a long shot to make the team, being undersized and having played in college at Nicholls State.

But by 2011, Webb, who tore his ACL in week 15 of his rookie season against the Chicago Bears, had already proven he was the best cover guy on the roster. Opposing teams started throwing away from him. He was exceptional in coming up in run support and seldom missed a tackle as he finished with 68, and five interceptions.

By the end of that season there was buzz about Webb becoming a Pro Bowl player. The Ravens evidently thought so, giving him a six-year contract worth $50 million in the 2012 offseason.

But in Week 5 of that season, Webb tore his ACL and really was never the same player again. He was solid despite recurring injuries, but those swivel hips where he could backpedal, turn and run with any receiver without missing a step were gone.

Webb also got caught up in the "Ed Reed Syndrome." Reed pretty much did whatever he wanted to with the Ravens because he had star power and clout. Webb emulated him, and his cockiness caused a strained relationship with some team officials for a while.

It's not unusual.

Ray Lewis went through a similar process. In his first couple of seasons, he used to hang with Thompson and running back Jamal Lewis. Once the Ravens brought in players like Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Deion Sanders, Lewis left the old crowd for the elite group.

People like to think that players are mature because they make a lot of money, but the truth is that they are just young men who still need to grow up. In the past two years, there has been a difference in Webb.

He was more about team than self. When the Ravens asked him to play over the slot, he did. When they asked him to move to safety, he did. Last season, when Pees and fellow safety Eric Weddle asked him to get deeper drops in the secondary and become more of a center fielder, he stepped up to the challenge.

In the second half of last season, there was a different Webb on the field. He showed more speed. It wasn't as if he was the Webb of old, but his legs appeared fresher. And Webb, despite weighing only 182 pounds, has never been afraid to hit.

In nine seasons in Baltimore, he had 428 tackles and knocked down 87 passes while picking off 13. He was a threat as a kick and punt returner.

But his legacy in Baltimore wasn't just on the field. Like Reed, his mentor, Webb spent a great amount of time in the community. He hosted his annual charity softball game to benefit his foundation, which focuses on providing aid to underprivileged children and their families in his hometown of Opelika, Ala., and Baltimore.

"[Webb] did have an excellent career here," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "To me, he was the classic example of 'it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog' mentality. He played here the same way he played in midlevel college ball. He was a tenacious player and always played with a lot of pride.

"He overcame adversity in the form of injuries and wore his emotions on his sleeve because he cared so much. We saw him grow as a person into the player so many fans loved."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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